Municipal staff in St. Clair worry as vaccine passports come into effect

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Petrolia officials aren’t anticipating vaccine passport problems

Alex Kurial
Local Journalism Initiative

St. Clair Township is pleading for civility toward staff members as Ontario’s vaccine passport comes into effect while officials in Petrolia expect most parents will be fine with the new rules.

Starting Wednesday anyone wishing to enter a non-essential business or facility must show they’ve received both doses of the COVID vaccine and 14 days have elapsed or be refused entry.

This includes arenas like the Mooretown Sports Complex. That means municipal employees will be left to enforce the rules for a program that does not have complete support of the public.

“We expect it to be not very pleasant at first because there are some people that are not vaccinated,” says Kendall Lindsay, director of community services.

“The arena is where we’re expecting most of the issues with the public coming in.”
He says there’s already social media chatter asking what leeway will be granted on the new rules. The vaccine passport is a provincial order, so full enforcement is mandatory.
For now, participants in organized sports like hockey can be unvaccinated.

The same goes for coaches, trainers and volunteers.

This is temporary though; the Ontario Minor Hockey Association has mandated everyone aged 12 and up be fully vaccinated by October 31 to be allowed to continue in the sport.
There’s no more grace period for spectators though and that’s what worries Lindsay.

“My concern is that people are going to be belligerent to staff.”

Lindsay says bringing in outside security for the first few days was discussed but the minor hockey association pleaded against this saying they thought it would make an already charged situation worse.

Instead, they volunteered to have parents and executives assist with enforcing the vaccine rules during ice time.

Lindsay says with this extra help they shouldn’t need security but he’ll be keeping an eye on the situation.

In the meantime Lindsay says anyone acting belligerently will be issued an arena ban via a no trespassing order and have the matter referred to the OPP.

“We need to have a zero-tolerance approach to frustrated patrons who act inappropriately towards township staff or volunteers due to this new provincial mandate.”

The township will also be drafting an official policy for staff and volunteers on how to deal with abusive members of the public.

Lindsay says he, Coordinator of Community Programs Michelle Rottier and Coordinator of Facilities and Parks Sue Knight will be working nights for awhile to make sure any potential abuse doesn’t fall solely to young volunteers or other arena staff.

“I’m scared that something might happen on the first day,” says Mayor Steve Arnold.
“The last thing I would ever want is for somebody to take a swipe at one of our great staff and somebody ends up being hurt. That would be just awful.”

Lindsay says problems often arise because people think the township or arena developed the vaccine rules, when in reality they’re mandated by the province.
“Hopefully everything goes well and we can just get kids on the ice to skate and we won’t have to worry about too much.”

“But if it isn’t I want to be prepared to make everybody safe,” says Lindsay of the township’s enforcement plan.

Meantime, in Petrolia, officials are hoping education will head off any incidents.
Laurissa Ellsworth, director of marketing, arts and communications, is reminding people using town facilities the new vaccine passport takes effect Wednesday and the town will have to follow the provincial rules.

And, she says, they have thought if there are any issues, it may be at the arena, where there is the most traffic.

“For the arena specifically there’s been a little more talk of making sure that people are really well informed. So by the time they do get to that front door, that we’re not facing push back,” she tells The Independent.

Ellsworth says organizations like OMHA and Skate Canada have made their vaccine expectations very clear.

“I think a lot of the organizations have been working through this on their own and are in support of it. So a lot of people that have registered prior to even our announcement or today are just ready for it based on their own organization’s policies.”

Ellsworth adds at Victoria Playhouse Petrolia, where patrons have been in house since early September, there has not been any concerns about the pandemic rules. She doesn’t expect that will change with the vaccine passports.

In St. Clair, township officials say there are areas of lower concern like the golf course, where people must be fully vaccinated to dine inside but can still play a round outside without their shots.

The community halls have decided to avoid the issue altogether by stating they wish to remain closed until the new year.

Lindsay says they “don’t want to be responsible for screening these vaccines or making sure everything that happens in their halls is falling under regulations.”

The lone exception is the Brigden Hall who say they want to remain open for their Beaver and Scout meetings and some other weekly gatherings. Lindsay says they’ll be a good case study for the rest of the halls come 2022.

  • with files from Heather Wright
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